Trees help to clean the air and provide a relaxing setting to reduce stress.
Photo credit: Anitra Mayhann
Do you know how vital trees really are? Trees conserve soil and water and clean the air. Research has shown that there are both mental and physical health benefits from forests. Trees provide us with oxygen through photosynthesis. Not to mention, think of the beauty they add to an area. Florida has celebrated Arbor Day for many years, since 1886 to be exact. It is the third Friday in January, whereas the National Arbor Day is the last Friday in April.
We can improve our health just by spending time outside in nature. Forests and trees can boost our immune system, reduce stress, increase our ability to sleep as well as boost energy levels while improving mood and helping us to focus. Studies in health care show a link between nature and health. Plants put off airborne chemicals called phytoncides to repel insects. The antifungal and antibacterial qualities that are put off in this process help us as we breathe them in by increasing our white blood cell count.
It is important that we remove ourselves occasionally from our office or home to explore green spaces to take a mental break. That might mean a walk in the forest, gardening, exercising, or resting and meditating to unplug from our fast-paced busy life. Many doctors encourage and incorporate this type of therapy for wellness for their patients and for children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.
There are many ways to celebrate trees. They are a great gift for birthdays, holidays, or anniversaries. You might also consider planting a tree in honor of a family member who has passed on or to remember a beloved pet. This year, give a gift that gives back as well as be encouraged to celebrate Florida’s Arbor Day on January 21st, 2022.
Many holidays celebrate something we remember, but Arbor Day is a way to celebrate hope for the future by planting a tree to support a healthy community. I encourage you to check with your local government offices, Forrester, or Extension office to see if there are any special celebrations planned that you could join or plan your own activity to honor trees as a resource and how they impact your environment.
For more information, visit Arbor Day Foundation or Florida Urban and Community Forestry.
I would like to continue on the theme of reducing food waste by talking more specifically about ways to use food scraps effectively to prevent them from ending up in the landfill.
As I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of a funny scene from the 1982 film Night Shift, where Michael Keaton’s character, Billy Blaze, says into his tape recorder, “Idea to eliminate garbage: edible paper. You see, you eat it, it’s gone. Eat it, it’s out of there. No garbage.” Think about how much less waste would go into our landfills if we could just eat paper!
It is the same concept for food waste. As much as 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be eaten, destined to end up in the landfill. That is literally thousands of tons of food wasted each year. But what if we could help reduce that amount?
Got leftover veggie scraps? Instead of throwing them away, save them for a delicious veggie soup.
(Photo source: UF/IFAS)
Here are two great ideas for using leftover food scraps instead of throwing them away.
Cook with them. Leftover vegetables are great ingredients for a simple and delicious soup. Simply take the leftovers, combine them with an aromatic base of onions, garlic, and celery, add a liquid such as stock or broth (or water and white wine), throw in a generous helping of herbs, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Then use an immersion blender or food processor (or stand-up blender) to blend into a creamy soup. Any type of vegetable works for this type of soup, from greens and cauliflower to parsnips and sweet potatoes, which makes it an ideal way to use up those scraps.
Another great way to use vegetable scraps is to make homemade stock. Vegetable parts such as carrot ends and peels, celery ends and greens, corn cobs, pea pods, and all the other bits trimmed off during food preparation can be used to make stock. Not in the mood to make stock right away? No problem! Veggie scraps can be saved in a zippered bag and kept frozen for up to six months.
When the time comes, simply dump the scraps into a large stock pot (that is why it is called a stock pot!) or Dutch oven, fill the pot 3/4 of the way with water, bring to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes. (The longer it simmers, the richer the flavor.) Strain it all through a sieve. The remaining liquid is the stock. Fresh stock can be stored 3-5 days in the refrigerator or frozen up to three months. Here is a simple resource from Cornell University Extension on how to make vegetable stock from kitchen scraps. (Here is another one from Tasty.co.)
Hold on! There are still scraps left over. What about those? Well, that brings me to the second great way to use kitchen scraps.
Food waste such as vegetable scraps can be added to compost to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer for home gardens.
(Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)
Compost them. Creating compost at home takes a little work and perseverance, but it can certainly pay off in the home garden. Nutrient-rich compost can add oomph to flower beds and vegetable patches and turn any garden into a showcase.
Vegetable scraps are perfect additions to any compost pile. Any vegetable scraps can be added to compost. Just remember to remove the little stickers, as those are not compostable.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are many benefits to compost. It enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. And it encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. These fact sheets (this one and this one) from UF/IFAS Extension are a wealth of information about home composting.
The reduction of unnecessary food waste begins with us, the consumers. By learning how to use those scraps in useful ways, such as cooking and composting, we can help eliminate the excess food waste filling our landfills.
UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Photo source: Heidi Copeland
According to industry standards, some of these carrots could not be sold because of “Serious damage” or any defect which seriously affects the general appearance of the
carrots in the container.
Waste less, save money is a great creed to live by. Really, it is that simple. One excellent example of this is food. Research indicates that 40% of all food in America is wasted yet, one in eight Americans does not have enough access to affordable, nutritious food. In other words, they are “food insecure.”
Wasted food is a MASSIVE problem at the commercial, institutional and residential levels. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there is more food than any other single material in our everyday trash and that approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost or wasted. In fact, in 2015, the USDA joined with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50 percent by the year 2030.
The sad fact is, most people do not realize how much impact food and food waste has on the earth and its issues of sustainability. Food waste occurs at every level of involvement. Examples of food waste include growing, processing (by-products too), transporting, point of sale, plate waste and uneaten prepared foods, and kitchen trimmings and their eventual disposal. Preventing food waste at all these levels can make a difference in addressing this issue.
However, preventing food waste it is not as easy as it seems. Many consumer factors also contribute to the problem.
- Food date labels confuse people. Use by/sell by dates are not always about food safety but about peak quality. Many foods are still safe to eat after their dates. Inspect “expired” foods closely via sight and smell before consuming – find ways to use up food past its prime.
- Households overbuy – do you really need super sizes? Buying in bulk is not always less expensive if much of it is discarded. Only purchase what you know you will use and do not get lured in by the “more for less” deals.
- Massive portions are often served – share or learn to love leftovers. Split enormous portions into multiple meals.
- Grocery stores overstock their shelves to maintain an image of abundance.
- People demand “perfect” produce. Farmers have a hard time selling less than stellar items. “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are just as delicious and nutritious as their more photogenic counterparts. Places such as farmers’ markets and community gardens are good places to find imperfect produce that would otherwise go to waste.
This Earth Day, (an event first celebrated on April 22, 1970 in the United States and is now a globally coordinated event in more than 193 countries) commit yourself to taking an action. As the late Neil Armstrong famously quoted as he stepped on to the moon… “This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” If each of us considered and implemented our own practical or creative approaches to preventing food from going to waste what would our collective actions mean for mankind?
Photo Source: Heidi Copeland
The best way to reduce food loss at home is not to create it in the first place. Not only would we individually save money, our collective efforts could conserve resources for future generations. The best method is the one you use.
- Reduce wasted food – shop smart, plan what you purchase, and use it, ALL of it!
- Maximize the efficiency of your refrigerator based on science. Read your refrigerator manual to learn where the coldest spots in the refrigerator are and what foods benefit from refrigerator location.
- Maximize the efficacy of canned products… use the FIFO (first in first out) method of rotation to use the oldest product before the newest on the shelf.
- Donate what you cannot use to others.
- Divert food scraps to animal food (chickens anyone?)
- Landfill as the last resort.
Common causes of personal food waste include overbuying, over preparing and spoilage. The basic tenets of sustainability – reduce, reuse, recycle and refuse, work to reduce food waste too! Pay attention to purchases, eat what is prepared, store food properly, and refuse to waste. We can all do our part! Let’s start today.
During and after floods or heavy rains, the soil in your septic system drainfield can become waterlogged. For your septic system to treat wastewater, water needs to drain freely in the drainfield. Special care needs to be taken with your septic system under flood conditions.
A conventional septic system is made up of a septic tank (a watertight container buried in the gound) and a drainfield. Image: Soil and Water Science Lab UF/IFAS GREC.
A conventional septic system is made up of a septic tank and a drainfield or leach field. Wastewater flows from the septic tank into the drainfield, which is typically made up of a distribution box (to ensure the wastewater is distributed evenly) and a series of trenches or a single bed with perforated PVC pipes. Wastewater seeps from these pipes into the surrounding soil. Most wastewater treatment occurs in the drainfield soil. When working properly, many contaminants, like harmful bacteria, are removed through die-off, filtering and interaction with soil surfaces.
What should you do if flooding occurs?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers these guidelines:
- Relieve pressure on the septic system by using it less or not at all until floodwaters recede and the soil has drained. Under flooded conditions, wastewater can’t drain in the drainfield and can back up in your septic system and household drains. Clean up floodwater in the house without dumping it into the sinks or toilet. This adds additional water that an already saturated drainfield won’t be able to process. Remember that in most homes all water sent down the pipes goes into the septic system.
- Avoid digging around the septic tank and drainfield while the soil is waterlogged. Don’t drive vehicles or equipment over the drainfield. Saturated soil is very susceptible to compaction. By working on your septic system while the soil is still wet, you can compact the soil in your drainfield, and water won’t be able to drain properly. This reduces the drainfield’s ability to treat wastewater and leads to system failure.
- Don’t open or pump the septic tank if the soil is waterlogged. Silt and mud can get into the tank if it is opened and can end up in the drainfield, reducing its drainage capability. Pumping under these conditions can cause a tank to float or ‘pop out’ of the ground, and can damage inlet and outlet pipes.
- If you suspect your system has been damaged, have the tank inspected and serviced by a professional. How can you tell if your system is damaged? Signs include: settling, wastewater backs up into household drains, the soil in the drainfield remains soggy and never fully drains, a foul odor persists around the tank and drainfield.
- Keep rainwater drainage systems away from the septic drainfield. As a preventive measure, make sure that water from roof gutters doesn’t drain towards or into your septic drainfield. This adds an additional source of water that the drainfield has to process.
- Have your private well water tested if your septic system or well were flooded or damaged in any way. Your well water may not be safe to drink or use for household purposes (making ice, cooking, brushing teeth or bathing). You need to have it tested by the Health Department or other certified laboratory for total coliform bacteria and coli to ensure it is safe to use.
For more information on septic system maintenance after flooding, go to:
More information on having your well water tested can be found at:
More Information on conventional and advanced treatment septic systems can be found on the UF/IFAS Septic System website
Most of us know there is a great deal of cleanup after a disaster hits. But how often do you think about what to clean before disaster strikes?
Here are some helpful cleaning measures you can do before a storm or other calamity so your burden is not so great after.
Mow the Lawn
If your lawn is mowed low and even now, you won’t have tall grass to trudge through later. Refill any gas cans and/or re-charge any lawnmower batteries after mowing. It will be much easier to pick up and remove any debris that lands on the mown lawn. And you may need to use the gas in the filled can to operate other equipment for the after-cleanup.
Trim, Whack, and Blow
Trim the hedges, whack down those weeds, and blow those leaves now. Otherwise, you may later find yourself with a big mess on top of a big mess.
Bring It In
Bring in any garbage cans, lawn furniture, or other yard items that could make a mess if blown over, broken, or made into dangerous shrapnel.
Lightning storm. Photo Source: UF/IFAS
Leave No Piles
Make sure there are no dirty dishes in the sink or the dishwasher. Make sure everything is cleaned, dried, and put away. Then, if you lose electricity after the storm or are not sure of the safety of your water, you don’t have to worry about clean plates to eat on, glasses to drink from, or utensils to eat with. And you don’t have a mess to look at or a stink from the sink to deal with.
Clean, dry, and put away all the dirty laundry now. If you lose that all-important electricity later, you won’t have to worry about stepping over piles of clothes or wonder how you’re going to deal with wearing the same dirty clothes over and over again. If you have a generator, you could use that to clean your clothes, but most of the time those generators are best used to keep food safe in the refrigerator or to operate emergency equipment.
If your bathroom tub is scrubbed clean now, you can fill it with water for flushing toilets, cleaning, or purifying and using as extra drinking water. You can also take a relaxing, cleansing bath from a hard, dirty day’s work after the storm.
And cleaning a dirty toilet now means you’ll have one less thing to have to deal with later – along with everything else on your to-do list.
Get Rid of It
Make sure the garbage can, recycle bin, and compost container are all emptied. The last thing anyone needs is old piles of trash with new piles of trash added on top.
Been meaning to give away those extra items (knick knacks, doodads, toys, etc.) you don’t use or like anymore? Doing that now makes for a cleaner house as opposed to having more “stuff” in the house, adding to the mess you may have to deal with later.
Clear the Clutter
Pick up papers, bills, tools, and any other important items that may be on various surfaces throughout the house (you may actually want to eat on that dining room table some day). Then organize them together in a safe place. This helps to keep them from getting water damaged or tossed around and you’ll be able to find them later.
Have your emergency kit filled and ready to go in a plastic tub or waterproof container. Make sure everyone in the house knows where it is. For other disaster preparation and recovery resources, go to https://disaster.ifas.ufl.edu/ and/or talk with your county UF/IFAS Extension Agent.
If your home or property are destroyed in a disaster, these measures probably won’t really help much. But if all is not lost and there is just some debris and damage cleanup to be done after a large weather event, the above measures taken before can alleviate a lot of extra stress after. And if there is no disaster, hey, your house is nice and clean. Relax and enjoy it!
Make sure you clean before disaster strikes.
You may be spending more time creating and experimenting in your kitchen these days. But are you taking the time to clean and enjoy the beauty of the kitchen when you’re not making those new culinary masterpieces? Here are 11 super simple kitchen cleanups that can take away the stresses caused by kitchen grime, stink, and clutter.
- Dust and Cover
For space between upper cabinets and the ceiling, begin by using a duster (and soapy sponge if needed) to get rid of all those dust bunnies. Then lay down wax paper (which holds the dust) or newspaper, paper grocery bags, or parchment paper. Then you can just lift the old paper and put down new a few times of year without having to clean years of dust and grime by hand. You may want to start with this because dust may fall from the top. Then work your way down to the rest of the kitchen.
- Clean the Microwave
Add about one cup of water to a large microwave-safe bowl. Cut a lemon in half. Squeeze the lemon juice into the bowl then add the lemon halves too. Microwave on high for about 2 minutes until the liquid boils and the window steams up. Don’t open the door yet; let the bowl sit for about 5-10 minutes. The steam loosens the gunk. Then it’s just an easy wipe down with a sponge inside and out.
- Wipe Down Surfaces
Wipe cabinet shelves and doors, counter tops, and trashcans with warm soapy water. Use the rough side of a double-sided non-scratch sponge for stuck-on areas and the softer side for crumbs and easier messes. You can also disinfect these surfaces with a spray bottle filled with a solution of one tablespoon bleach to one quart water, using paper towels to wipe dry.
Photo: A. Hinkle
- Scrub a Stove-top
Clean/ready to cook.
Photo: A. Hinkle
First, wipe down with warm soapy water. Put half a cup of baking soda in a bowl. Then slowly pour in hydrogen peroxide, mixing until it becomes a thin paste. Pour a little paste on the stubborn spots and rub with a heavy-duty paper towel or rag. The stains should come right off. For stubborn stains, pour a bit more of the paste onto the stuck-on stain and let it soak for about 10 minutes. Then scrub, scrub, scrub some more until the stove-top is completely clean.
(Check manufacturer’s directions for smooth top stoves.)
- Wash the Refrigerator
Take out shelves, drawers, and other removable parts of your refrigerator and freezer and wash with hot water and dish soap – just as if they were dishes. Wash the inside walls and door compartments of the refrigerator and freezer with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda and 4 cups warm water to clean and reduce any strong odors. Rinse with clear warm water and dry with a soft cloth. Wipe off all jars and dishes as you replace them in the refrigerator.
Wash the outside of the refrigerator and freezer with hot soapy water, rinse, and dry. Don’t forget the door gaskets – sticky gaskets can cause air leaks, using more energy over time.
- The Garbage Can
Sprinkle baking soda into the bottom of the trash bag to help keep the shudder-inducing smellies away and/or add a cotton ball soaked in essential oils to add a nice scent.
- The Stinky Sink
First, run hot water down the drain. Follow that with a cup of baking soda. Finish off with a cup of lemon juice. This fizzy reaction is fun to do with the kids.
- That Refrigerator Smell
Placing an open box of baking soda on a shelf in the refrigerator gets rid of most smells. If your unit has a pan or plastic tray on the very bottom to collect the condensation or defrost water, remove and clean it once or twice a year. Dust and moisture in this pan can lead to mold growth and cause health problems for persons with allergies. It also can develop an unpleasant odor. Check your care manual for the location of the pan.
That’s Got to Go!
- Food – Organize, Keep, Toss
Go through your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and throw away anything that is expired, moldy, or you have no idea what it is. (To learn more about Use-By, Sell-By, and Best-By dates on food packages, check out Understanding Date Labels.) FIFO (First In First Out) your pantry foods by placing the older foods at the front and newer foods in the back. This way, you use up the foods that will expire first. Throw away any foods with freezer burn.
- Herbalicious…or Not
Toss out any herb or spice containers that are past their best-if-used-by date. Herbs and spices begin to quickly lose their wonderful tastes and aromas after this date. If it has no date and you have no idea how long you’ve had it, best bet is to throw it away.
That Kitchen Drawer
Photo Source: A. Hinkle
- That Drawer
Where is that ladle? I know I put it in this drawer. Why is the kitchen tool I want to use always at the bottom of the utensil (or junk) drawer? And why do I have five corkscrews when I don’t even drink wine? Help beat these frustrating dilemmas. De-clutter and organize this drawer. Start by taking everything out – yes, everything. Pick out things you never use. If you’ve had a melon baller for 10 years and used it once nine years ago, put it in a giveaway pile. Put four of the five corkscrews in that pile too. Throw away anything that’s broken or unusable. Wipe out the drawer using a sponge and warm soapy water or disinfectant wipes. Refill the drawer starting in the bottom/back with those tools you don’t use as often. Work your way forward and up with the tools you use most often. Ah, so much better now, and from now on.
Try tackling two or three of these tips a week. You can complete the whole list in one month. Your kitchen will be cleaner and more comfortable, and you can be less stressed and happier.